I Am Large, I Contain
Multitudes And #MeToo
When It Comes Sexual Harassment, Both Political Parties Need To Hold All Offenders Responsible, No Matter How Revered Or Successful They May Be
Walt Whitman (center), Bill Clinton (top left), John Conyers (center left), Roy Moore (bottom left), Al Franken (top right), Joe Biden (center right), and Clarence Thomas (bottom right).
By Wayne Schutsky
Special for Modern Times Magazine
Jan. 30, 2017 — "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes)"
This famous line from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," though originally an introspective insight about Whitman himself, is applicable to the larger social and political world today in light of the #MeToo movement and public reckoning concerning rampant sexual assault and/or harassment committed by powerful men in media, entertainment and politics.
Too often these allegations have resulted in a schism separating those who unequivocally denounce the alleged perpetrators of violence against women (and in some cases men) and those who blindly defend those alleged perpetrators in the defense of some greater good.
In the cases like that of former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Representative John Conyers and U.S. Senator Al Franken, supporters of those men have -- in some cases -- been hesitant to hold them accountable because of the political and social good will those men have done during their lives.
In Clinton's case, these supporters were, decades ago, afraid of damaging a president who, though no stranger to allegations of sexual impropriety, represented a successful Democratic party. Today, these supporters don't want to tarnish that legacy or hurt the political future of Hillary Clinton, the modern day Henry Clay.
The same can be said of Conyers and Franken. The former is a civil rights legend who has defended minority groups in Congress admirably and the latter was a party darling with potential White House aspirations until recently.
The allegations against Conyers, specifically, struck a chord with many supporters due to his position as a central figure in the Civil Rights movement.
While it is true that many in the Democratic Party have begun to reckon with these allegations, notably by pushing for both Conyers and Franken to resign, there is still a bulk of the party hesitant to hold these men fully accountable for fear of damaging the party's image prior to the 2018 elections when it could take back control of the House and/or the Senate.
The party is beginning to make reconciliation on Clinton, as well, as evidenced by Michelle Goldberg's New York Times article "I Believe Juanita."
The article serves as a retroactive acceptance of allegations made by Juanita Broaddrick that Clinton raped her in 1978, when he was Arkansas’ attorney general.
However, for every step forward, there is a step back.
In fact, in recent days at least four senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are asking Franken to reverse his promise to resign.
That is misguided. For, no matter what good could be done by keeping the man in office, men in power accused of sexual assault or harassment need to be held accountable for their actions. Period. Full stop.
Whether these men are accused of harassing employees, groping them or more severe actions like rape, the very least we need to demand of them is that they no longer participate in governing our country. In pursuing sexual gratification at the expense of the safety and well-being of the victims, they forfeited the right to govern, no matter what good actions they have done in their past.
"I am large, I contain multitudes."
Supporters of these men should not worry about tarnishing their legacies or the legacy of their party when deciding whether or not to push them towards resignation.
Rather, they should keep the words of Whitman in mind and realize that these men, too, contain multitudes. We can acknowledge their prior good deeds without becoming beholden to them.
We can acknowledge Conyers' contributions to the civil rights movement or Franken's legislative victories without tacitly supporting their sexual misconduct by allowing them to remain in office.
If Democrats fail to hold these men accountable, they cede the high ground they so glibly climbed onto during the Roy Moore senatorial campaign.
Moore — the former activist Christian judge who is accused of pursuing sexually harassing and assaulting teenagers while in his 30s — was the focal point of ire from Democrats and Republicans, though many of them like the president ended up supporting the accused pedophile during the election.
For, in supporting one type of sexual abuser while denouncing another, these people are communicating that victims only matter if they were hurt by the other side.
And Democrats are not the only side that needs to reconcile its response to sexual abusers within the party.
Republicans arguably have an even more sordid history when it comes to this topic. Moore — who lost to Democrat Doug Jones on Dec. 12 — is the most recent example of this, though the party has plenty examples to choose from.
Examples like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas was famously accused of harassment Anita Hill before being confirmed to his appointment to the highest court in the land.
One can only assume that in the age of #MeToo, which has ended other jurist's careers, Thomas would never have made it to the bench with these type of allegations hanging over his head.
However, even the Thomas case sheds light on the ills of the entire political sphere, not just the Republican Party. That is because Thomas was aided in his ascent to the Supreme Court by then Sen. Joe Biden, the head of Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, who botched the Anita Hill hearings.
It is time to recognize that society is broken. That we have accepted violence against women as a cost of doing business for too long.
When asked if we unequivocally denounce sexual violence against anyone, it is time to answer in the affirmative.
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